Can Grace Go Too Far?   13 comments

Given a couple of negative responses to my recent posts, I apparently need to explain what I mean by grace.  I think there are some common interpretations of grace that can really take us down the wrong path.  One of the most common misunderstandings of grace is to equate it with freedom of action while equating law with restriction of action.  freedom and restriction of action are about method and context, while grace and law are about motivation and direction.  Grace does not play the high notes or the low notes on this freedom/restriction continuum, but plays the whole keyboard.  That is to say, it confines or releases as directed by love.


Law motivates by fear, shame, and guilt.  These are very legitimate motivations, because they point out how screwed up we really are, but if we try to remedy our fear and guilt by making better choices, we are doomed by our imperfections.  The fear and shame are not intended to drive us to work harder at being good, but to awaken us to our need of the grace of God (forgiveness, love, acceptance, strength, hope, blessing, in short, the gospel).


Here is where confusion and misgivings easily catch us.  We know that fear and shame are powerful motivators, they have profoundly molded our behavior and the behavior of others towards us.  If you remove law, what will keep me in check?  We think fear and guilt make us good, when they really only change our actions, not our hearts.  Still, if  this motivation is removed, what will inspire us to go in the right direction.  If there is therefore now no condemnation, won’t I just act like a spoiled brat, won’t others “take advantage” of grace?  No.  It is impossible to “take advantage” of grace.  If you try, if you decide to fulfill every “forbidden pleasure,” it will leave you more empty, lost, broken, and even farther from the blessings of grace–not because grace resists you, for it always has open arms, but because you resist grace, which is the way of true peace, fulfillment, joy, love.  The only way to take advantage, full advantage, of God’s grace is to throw yourself whole-heartedly into his embrace.

Let me quote a reply I gave a questioning friend: In my mind “doing as I please” is a serious misunderstanding of grace, and is profoundly different from doing what my soul needs. The differentiation in my mind is not that the first matches my desires and feelings and the second matches my duty, but that the first matches superficial desires and feelings often at odds with my deeper feelings (e.g. choosing sex as a replacement for love), while the second is discovering my true feelings and true needs and seeking to meet those.  At this point in my understanding of God’s grace, I believe that my soul’s truest needs are never in conflict with God’s will, and if they appear to be, I misunderstand one or the other.



Posted April 3, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,

13 responses to “Can Grace Go Too Far?

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I am probably seeing what you are trying to share and by my sharing my perspective of my understanding please don’t feel I am against you…I read you as a fellow sojourner, I seek to understand because I respect you and hope what you have understood from Jesus will shed light upon my journey as well…

    I am encouraged that we are wrestling with what the Bible says and what Jesus lived in understanding grace rather than as the church/christians/subcultures/fad define grace. Just as truth desintegrated in to “law” for Christians and Churches like “don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go around…” etc so grace has become diluted with lasissez-faire, cheap forgiveness, and no accountability. Somehow truth and grace are intrinsically, beautifully, and wonderfully married. To hold one above the other or exclusive to the other is to render it null and void…it is within the context of the other that each is full of meaning and power.

    From above in your blog “the grace of God (forgiveness, love, acceptance, strength, hope, blessing, in short, the gospel).” it seems that “the gospel” is equated with “positive” applications and not with “culture/Christian valued negative” applications like truth, confrontation, accountability, consistency, swearing to your own hurt, perseverance etc. The “positive” applications sound wonderfully freeing if you have grown up in a legalistic home, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the answer. They are freeing when understood from the whole counsel of God. There is a limit to grace “Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid!”

    Titus 2 says 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

    15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

    In this passage that starts and continues and ends with the gloriousness of grace, I also see woven within the words – to say no, self controlled, upright, godly, purify, do what is good, rebuke, authority, which are not words that I see equated with grace today.

  2. Oops…sorry, I should have written on the first line “I am probably NOT seeing….”

    • Elisabeth, thank you so much for writing. I want the interaction with others’ thoughts. There is no other way to understand one another clearly and gain from one another’s perspective. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify. I find the words “negative” and “positive” to be confusing in this context, and I think I can make my perspective more clear by using the words “unpleasant” and “pleasant,” (i.e. things that don’t feel good and things that do feel good). You are right that law is different from truth. I may be misreading you, but it sounds like you are thereby changing the continuum from restrictive—non-restrictive to unpleasant—-pleasant, teaming truth with unpleasant and grace with pleasant (or perhaps teaming truth with difficult and grace with easy?). If we are referring to the goal of grace–wholeness and heaven–then putting it on the side of pleasant makes sense. But if we are speaking of the process or journey in getting there, then I think it is a mistake to group grace with pleasant. As a goal, true, deep, lasting happiness (i.e. pleasantness), can only come through wholeness. We are sick and need a doctor, and though all of the doctor’s energy is focused on making us whole and thereby happy, this does not mean his treatment will be pleasant, or that we will like or understand his procedures. But we cannot put ourselves fully into the hands of the physician without a strong belief that his only intention is to bring us to wholeness and happiness.
      This is why I say God’s grace is about motivation and direction (not method and context–easy/hard, pleasant/unpleasant, restrictive/non-restrictive). He loves us desperately, passionately, unconditionally, and all his acts towards us flow from this love. Unfortunately, our experience of grace comes mostly through broken humans, such as our parents, and they have taught us conditional love. They do pleasant things to us from a warm feeling inside, but they do unpleasant things to us (e.g. punish) often from an upset (wounded) feeling inside. Our bad behavior threatens them in so many ways that they react defensively (they fear rejection, loss of control, shame, and the like). When I say grace is a motivation, I mean not only God’s motivation in dealing with us, but our resulting motivation in following him–a trust in His unconditional love.
      In a way, I am guilty as charged with reference to placing grace on the side of the “positive” because I see all that flows from God as positive. Self-control is a wonderful thing… the alternative is bondage to every circumstance and whim of emotion. Purity is an amazing gift… the alternative is pollution. Likewise, the things I listed under grace may be remarkably difficult to experience–strength sounds pleasant, but would we not rather stay weak and have the obstacles removed which require strength to overcome? Receiving forgiveness can be excruciating, because it can only find those who admit their real faults. These healthy choices we make may be a harder, more unpleasant path in the short term and at a superficial level, but I want to be motivated to it by grace, by understanding how much freedom and health and joy will flow into me through this path. I don’t want to respond out of fear of losing God’s love or shame in being unworthy as a person.
      I also wonder about contrasting “truth” with grace. Isn’t the contrast to truth “falsehood”, and if not, what does truth mean? Can we restrict truth to unpleasant or hard things? Perhaps you see folks making immediately pleasant but unwholesome choices and rightly understand them as living out a lie. But I think the lie they follow is not in wishing to gratify their desires, but in thinking this immediate and misleading gratification is going to make their life more pleasant, when it is rather the path to bondage, darkness, separation, sickness and the like. I don’t want to tell them that they should deny their desires, but rather point them to their truest, deepest desires against which their short-term satisfaction is fighting.
      I look forward to your response, Elisabeth. I hope I have not misconstrued what you have said, and want you to please correct me where it seems I have misunderstood you or been unclear in what I am saying… as iron sharpens iron.

      • I am sorry that I am taking so much of your time because of my inability to communicate …I appreciate what you have written and I am going to read it again; It doesn’t feel like it is answering what my heart cry is, but in and of itself it is valid. I am not against what you are saying at all…In fact I am either very for it or intrigued by it.

      • Please don’t feel sorry, Elisabeth. I am energized by interacting with folks on these topics. What is hard for me is hearing no responses and feeling that I must not be connecting with any one in a real way. It sounds like I have misunderstood you, which makes me curious to know what you mean. I hope you are able to articulate it in a way I can understand. I find Bacon’s dictum, writing makes an exact man, quite true for myself. In trying to explain my thoughts to others, I come to think more clearly about them myself.

      • You know when you are looking for that just right spice to add the perfect taste to your dish…and you are searching and then awesome, you find it… Or when you are looking for just the right phrase for your conclusion, and the words just flow… or that pair of shoes when you put them on your feet go “ahhhh” … I can’t find that yet to communicate. It is not you, I have tried in several venues and with different people and I so far can’t seem to find words that fit my heart cry and their heart hearing… so we journey onward…it will come and it will be all the sweeter for the anticipation.

  3. thank you for this post.. that got my attention.

    I will try to comment on Grace without putting scripture reference
    here we go.

    in some countries, there are strict regulations

    Laws like “Parent should feed their children” or else they can go to jail and their kids taken from them

    however, In my country there is no such Law.
    but I can guarantee you I feed my children because I love them.
    not only that, I am willing to die for them.

    Grace is love. Grace affects the heart.

    The law are for those who abandoned their children
    The law are for those murderers, thieves, cheaters

    to us who are loving, we don’t need those laws to make us love our children

    even without any of that Law, I know I fulfilled the Laws because I love my children.
    I am not even aware of any laws like that.

    good post

    – grace and peace

  4. Trying again…I was wondering if you felt Jesus communicated unconditional love and grace to the money changers in the temple…

  5. I would like to start with a caveat. I don’t know to what extent Jesus was limited by his human body and mind. For instance, God is able to give complete attention to all people, situations, etc. at all times. I also don’t know to what extent Jesus’ emotions were affected by his humanity (or how God’s “emotions” are like ours). My last caveat is that the context itself does not report on Jesus’ love, so we must draw it from theology we build from elsewhere. I think some of the questions that come to mind for us may be these: 1) is it possible to be angry at someone while loving them fully; 2) Is it possible to hate what someone does without it decreasing our value of them as a person; 3) Are there times when justice requires us to limit our love for one side or the other. Even more important than these questions is the consideration of whether God is able truly to provide redemption for all parties in every conflict… for instance when justice requires the punishment of one party, is that punishment a lessening of grace towards that person–either in the attitude or the act? According to my theology of grace, God never needs to limit his grace towards one party in order to give full grace to another party. Everyone gets full grace, though it may look very different to onlookers.
    We may feel that when Jesus lashes out (literally) at the money changers, he is simply acting out of justice, but justice is only holy if it flows from a loving heart, loving towards all. We clearly see that Jesus’ anger and aggression is supportive of those who are oppressed. Is it also redemptive towards the oppressors? If Jesus had no one to protect in this situation, would grace inspire him to use a different approach (perhaps more gentle) to the money changers? I expect we tend to think that gentleness is more gracious than toughness, but to me the question is motivation. Someone can be gentle from fear or doubt or personality or what have you, and it can do more harm to the one with whom they are dealing. Love asks, “What will be most effective in drawing this person towards healing, fullness, joy, relationship, redemption? I want the very best for this person–peace, love, connection, insight. How can I influence them towards their own wholeness? If such redemption requires bringing short-term pain, grace takes no delight in this, but feels the pain of each person with sympathy and sadness, though it may not be able to express this in a given context (i.e. it may not be the right time to offer comfort). If we spoke of it in human emotional terms, we would say grace is always reluctant to cause pain, and only does so when the alternative is damage to the individual. As a loving parent, It always spanks with tears in its eyes. It takes no joy in the method, but great pleasure in the result. So yes, I believe Jesus gave to the money changers the very best his love had to give them, the greatest potential for redemption. What do you think, Elisabeth?

  6. When Jesus is Firm, He is not over bearing – unlike us, we become difficult to be with
    When Jesus is Soft, He is not ran over – unlike us, we are taken advantage
    When Jesus is Authoritative, He does not run over – unlike us, we step on others
    When Jesus is Hard, He is loving – unlike us, we become unforgiving

    nothing in Him preponderates the other

  7. BTW Elisabeth, I am speaking of the grace God gives, what his grace is like. The grace we give is extremely limited, because we as humans are very limited (as well as broken). Our emotions are tangled up with so many variables that it is often not possible for us to love the oppressor as well as the oppressed, to hate the behavior while loving the person doing it, to be angry and loving at the same time. We have limited energy, insight, power, consistency, and the like. For me the supreme point is that God is full of grace with no limitations, so that when I am unable to be a support to someone else, I throw the matter back on God and his infinite resources… it is ultimately his responsibility to care for each individual. It is crucial for me to believe this or I will feel responsible in ways that tear me down.
    Perhaps when you are talking about “balancing” grace with something, you are not so much speaking of the grace God gives as you are referring to the grace we are called to give. God’s is unlimited, but ours is severely limited. If I try to always be giving, giving more than I receive, giving out of my tiredness rather than my strength, I will burn out very quickly. God never calls me to give more than I am able, and so my ability to “grace” others is always limited. So perhaps you mean that our gracing others must be “balanced” with our receiving grace. So for instance, when others begin to drain me more than is good for my soul, I need to set limits or boundaries in my relationship with them. Either this person needs more care than I can provide, and God must supply it to them directly or through another person, or this person needs to awaken to their own passiviity so as to begin to grow in this area. In either case, it would be a mistake for me to offer more than I have to give because it would be harmful for them as well as for me. Grace also calls me to consider what is best for the other, and what kind of support might enable unhealthy behavior rather than healthy growth.
    Just some other thoughts to advance dialogue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: